FOREST, Va. — A pair of donkeys, looking quizzically over a fence, inspired Deb Droog’s creative juices.
Because the Bedford County artist has been in a quilting phase for several years, she recreated a magazine’s photo of the donkeys on fabric, using sewing machines to paint their images with thread.
Nothing was lost in the transfer to the quilt; the animals look just as bemused in stitches as they did in the Country Living magazine picture that piqued Droog’s talents.
The donkeys’ image is art on a quilt, using more than 50 thread colors so well the magazine also published a photo of the quilted version.
“I do love doing animals, because they have these expressions,” Droog said in her Forest-area studio.
Mitchell Bond, co-owner of the Goose Creek art studio in Bedford, said Droog’s techniques of painting animals in layers of thread on fabric is rare in the worlds of art and quilting.
“Hers is all machine-done. She gets a very effective result with the technique she uses,” Bond said. “That building up of layers of thread is really unique,” he said.
In another of Droog’s quilted inspirations, a rooster with hair-like feathers and cocked head stares straight at viewers, seeming to ask, “What are you looking at?”
The rooster image came from a calendar, and Droog recreated it just for art’s sake — at first, as an oil painting for her daughter’s kitchen wall.
Later, she replicated the rooster on fabric, using the four sewing machines in her studio.
One of the machines is computerized, does embroidery and cost $9,000, she said. But her favorite machine is a cast-iron, $1,600 workhorse that can sew through multiple layers of heavy fabric and do the fine stitching needed in detailed artwork.
One is 12-feet long and performs the basic quilting function of stitching together the creatively designed top to the batting and bottom layer of fabric.
Droog doesn’t think in basic terms, though.
“This is a multimedia place where you can do anything you want to,” Droog said.
Among those things are orphaned quilt tops found in estate sales. They are country-style quilts that had been started by grandmothers many years ago.
“I sort of have a need to find them and quilt them and finish them up,” Droog said. “Somebody put a lot of hard work into them, and it’s kind of my payback to legacy,” she said.
Friends who share Droog’s quilting interests help her finish the quilts, and she gives many away to her family and friends.
She also does what she calls “comfort quilts” for cancer patients.
One is a horse-themed quilt for her brother, who has lung cancer.
“He loves horses, so I’m embroidering all these horses on that machine, and I’m going to fix him a quilt with boots and horses,” Droog said.
None of her creations are done to earn money, Droog said, although she does sometimes accept commissioned requests for oil paintings if the request has a meaningful purpose.
In one such case, a man from Kenya wanted her to paint his deceased father. But there was only one photograph of the father, and it came from a photocopied newspaper printed in the 1940s.
“I asked for pictures of all his sons, and asked the mother which favored the father the most, and which had the same skin color,” Droog said. “I painted him set in the 1940s, with sort of an ethereal background, like maybe he was up above, you know.
“When he came to get it, he cried. He said, ‘You have captured the spirit of my father.
“That has happened to me so many times,” when paintings requested by families have comforted descendants who didn’t have photos of their ancestors, she said.
Droog’s grandchildren use her studio when they visit, Droog said, and she helps them sew, paint and create. Shelves and cabinets hold ribbons, paints, zippers, yarn and other accessories the children can use.
“They love it,” Droog said. And teaching them to use the talents they’ve inherited is one of her pleasures.
“That’s the fun I get, having somebody else discover their qualities and their skills and develop them,” she said.
Natural talent may account for 10 percent of an artist’s skill, she said, but 90 percent of success comes from working to develop those talents.
Droog said she also teaches a few adults each year to quilt or paint.
“I just figure God gave me a talent,” Droog said, and she’s happy to help other aspiring artists.
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